Hackers and cyber criminals are often pictured as lonely geeks attacking websites simply to prove how smart they are. In reality, they are typically networks of criminals using sophisticated methods for financial gains. Firewalls and antivirus software can prevent many of the more basic forms of cyber attacks, but new forms of the crime are emerging constantly. Unless business owners understand the threats and take action to prevent them, they risk major disruption and huge potential financial losses.
IT systems, smartphones and the Internet have revolutionized the business world in the past decade. As well as massive gains in efficiency, businesses can now access global markets thanks to developments in technology. The downside is that widespread use of the Internet and mobile devices has also led to the rise of cyber crime. As well as protecting their tangible assets and property, businesses also have to consider threats to data and digital resources.
A common misunderstanding is that cyber crime is only a threat to a business trading online. In reality, any company using IT to store data or communicate could suffer losses as the result of an attack. The following are emerging forms of cyber crime business owners should be aware.
1) Extortion hacks
Reports of this type of crime can be traced back to around 2005, and the number of attacks increased rapidly in 2015. Extortion hacks often use so called ‘ransomware’ to deny rightful owners access to their own data. In return for payments to criminals, the data is unlocked and access is granted again. Ransoms are usually demanded in the digital currency Bitcoin.
A new twist on extortion hacking is the threat to release sensitive data to the media or other third parties. This can lead to damage to reputation for a company and ultimately result in fines and other financial losses. A recent example of this type of crime is the Ashley Madison data breach. Hackers threatened to release personal data of users of the dating website if it wasn’t shut down.
2) Data sabotage
Rather than deleting or blocking access to data, there are increasing incidents of hackers manipulating data for financial gains. This may sound like something out of a spy movie, but it’s a very real threat to some types of business. As an example, criminals may manipulate financial data to influence stock prices. Data sabotage crimes can be very difficult to detect, and the harm may be done by the time a company realizes it’s a victim.
3) Using the Internet of Things (IoT) for criminal purposes
Some experts are warning of the potential risks of connecting everything from cars to medical devices to the Internet. The IoT is projected to involve billions of devices over coming years, and this gives cyber criminals new ways to exploit security weaknesses. It’s hard to predict where this will go as the technology is so new, but business owners should think very carefully about how they use the IoT. It’s possible connected devices could be exploited for more conventional forms of crime, such as remotely disabling CCTV cameras before committing a robbery.
4) Smartphone and tablet hacking
Increased use of mobile devices has given criminals a new way to access a company’s IT systems. A business may have the latest antivirus and security software installed in its office network, but there’s a back door open if mobile devices used by staff aren’t protected. Malware hidden in free apps is one of the techniques used to launch an attack. Surveys suggest that over 90% of mobile devices have no security software installed.
Developments in technology and new social trends mean that cyber crime is constantly evolving. Business owners need to understand the threats and ensure necessary protections are in place. Cyber insurance cover is available to help businesses recover if the worst should happen.